Welcome back to a pair of treasured Living Stereo LPs in spanking new digital reincarnations. Fritz Reiner's Nevsky always has been at the top of the pile, unrivalled for its orchestral precision and dynamic power. An audio classic by RCA's famed production team of Lewis Layton and Richard Mohr, its wide-stage technicolor sound excites with percussion details, braying brass, and weighty tuba, whipped up to an exciting pitch by Reiner. But the highlights aren't all high-decibel affairs: the dread-laden expectancy of the opening and the mezzo's lament in the field of dead are similarly compelling. Still, it's the Battle on the Ice that breaks leases, and you can test your neighbors' tolerance with this one. Oh, there is one huge flaw in the ointment: mezzo and chorus all sing the Russian text (not, thank goodness, the Latin portions) in English. That's a downer, but like the definition of "conscience", it's what hurts when everything else feels good.
The filler is a meal in itself--violinist Leonid Kogan's wonderful traversal of the Khachaturian concerto, recorded immediately after his American debut. Kogan was one of the greats and it's thrilling to hear him in such splendid sound performing a piece he virtually owned. The way he spins out the sinuous opening theme with silken legato over a background of brooding strings is worth the price of admission itself. Khachaturian's orientalisms often sound like music from a B-movie desert epic, but they work here, especially with playing of such caliber. Let's not forget those opulent Boston strings and gorgeous winds either. Only terminal grouches will resist this disc. [12/9/00]
--Dan Davis, ClassicsToday.com